In Jharkhand, the BJP has taken a big hit just seven months after it won 12 of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in the state.
What has changed since the Prime Minister returned for a second term with an even bigger score than his landmark victory in 2014? The emergence of Amit Shah, who doubles up as Home Minister and BJP President, as the most powerful politician in the country. The combo of Modi and Shah is praised by admirers as "the most effective partnership in Sangh history." Whether or not you agree, it is inarguable that Shah's hyphenation with Modi on top issues is now written in perma ink.
I had argued here early on in this term that Shah is Modi's political heir. The Home Minister is the pilot and face of several big and controversial decisions taken by Modi 2.0 such as the repeal of Article 370 (taking away Kashmir's special status) and reducing India's only Muslim-majority state to a union territory. Shah anchored the bill and made aggressive pronouncements in Parliament such as Dr Farooq Abdullah, former Chief Minister of the erstwhile J&K, was not under arrest but he could not produce him in the House with a "kanpatti pe gun" (with a gun to his head). The House and the media gasped at the language but kept quiet even when it emerged that Abdullah was in fact under detention and continues to be. The BJP base, represented by most its online supporters and the IT cell, was ecstatic talking about "Shah-ji as Sardar Patel the Second" and the "Modi & Shah Jodi" which saw a "confident Modi" indulgently allowing his "partner" the complete limelight.
The 370 play book of Shah as the face of tough new decisions was repeated in the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and its bigoted twin, the oft threatened National Register of Citizens (NRC), which Shah has repeatedly committed to. Modi was not even present in the Lok Sabha when Shah introduced the bill to the same sort of raptures from the BJP base. Now, after 22 people have been killed in protests-related violence, it's a tight rope walk for Modi as he tries to distance himself from the NRC. At a campaign speech in Delhi's Ramlila Maidan on Sunday, Modi tried with vintage political spin to dial down the threat of the NRC - I'm not sure the country is buying it. Modi's speech saw immediate push back and fact-checkers used serial Shah pronouncements to highlight that the NRC is a clear and present danger. Even tame newspapers wrote edits saying Modi's attempted reassurance that there have been no steps taken by his government to consider introducing the NRC is not enough and that the Modi government will likely have to concretely roll back the NRC.
The opposition also remained unconvinced by Modi dialling down the rhetoric as Monday saw Y S Jaganmohan Reddy, the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, announcing that he will not implement the NRC in his state. Like Chief Ministers including Naveen Patnaik and Nitish Kumar, Jaganmohan had supported the CAA in parliament but is drawing the line at the NRC. Hemant Soren who will become the Chief Minister of Jharkhand has also said that he will not go down the NRC route.
The growing number of Chief Ministers against the NRC represents significant political capital. This federal push back is unprecedented with BJP allies making it clear that they won't go along for the ride. Eventually, Modi and Shah will have to confront the reality that only BJP states will be on board for the NRC. They don't like push back on decisions and have never bothered about political consensus. Modi has dared Mamata Banerjee, the West Bengal Chief Minister leading the fight against the NRC to "ask your Solicitor General if you can refuse to implement central legislation."
So is Shah 1.0 causing Modi 2.0 big trouble, as one panelist on NDTV put it yesterday? At the best of times, say BJP leaders, Shah is a decisive and arrogant leader not remotely given to reviewing his strategy. In Modi 1.0, Shah as BJP President had a lower profile as he did not have any executive authority. But after the 2019 win, Shah has become a larger-than-life figure hailed as a modern day Chanakya by his tame Panna Pramukhs in the media. Thus far, every decision if his was described as a "master stroke". In the cardboard cutout Modi cabinet, where silence is a virtue, only Shah speaks often to Modi. Perhaps Shah began to believe his own press.
Certainly, his fabled social engineering experiments of making non-dominant castes as Chief Ministers in Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand have flopped. His fabled arrogance saw Uddhav Thackeray, preferring an uncertain alliance with the Congress and NCP In Maharashtra. Even in Jharkhand, which has become the fifth state to slip out of Shah's hands in a year, Shah backed an extremely unpopularity Raghubar Das despite warnings from others.
The upcoming election calendar is a challenge for Shah with elections in Delhi and Bihar, followed by West Bengal in 2021.
But my reading is that Modi and Shah seem determined to double down on NRC, Shah will remain BJP president (JP Nadda will be confined to working president), and the moves will get more aggressive. All this as the BJP is reportedly blaming its new party office in Delhi for bad luck.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.